“They killed our husbands” is the cry of widows of those MoE/WAEC staff members who lost their lives recently when the marine vessel Niko Ivanka, on board which they were travelling to Harper City to administer WAEC exams, sank near the southern port city of Buchanan.
Concerned family members say since the vessel sank with the loss of several lives, President Weah has remained silent and has not even tendered condolences to families of the deceased, let alone charged the requisite authorities to produce an investigative report on the sinking of the vessel that led to the irreparable loss of precious lives. Relatives of the deceased say they feel abandoned and neglected by the government of Liberia.
Several passengers (26) and crew were reportedly lost at sea including cargo. The few passengers who were rescued from the stricken vessel have described the sinking of the vessel as moments of horror. The vessel suddenly began taking in water and, before they could realize it, the vessel had sunk beneath the waves, leaving passengers struggling to stay afloat by clinging on to whatever floatable materials they could lay hands on.
According to their accounts, the captain and crew of the vessel had provided no life jackets for use in case of emergency. They further charge that the vessel was rickety and leaky and could be reasons why the vessel sank so quickly.
In the aftermath of the tragic incident, Maritime Commissioner Eugene Nagbe promised a full scale investigation into how the Niko Ivanka was allowed to set sail when it had previously been declared unfit and unseaworthy by National Port Authority (NPA) and Maritime authorities. The Ministry of Education as well as WAEC authorities have since remained mum on the issue.
But the focus here is on the WAEC and the Ministry of Education. Widows and relatives of the deceased staffers have accused the Government of Liberia (GoL) of sending their loved ones to their deaths. A mother of one of the deceased men said she was taken aback when her son informed her that he was not at the motor carpark at Red Light but was instead at the Freeport of Monrovia to board a vessel to travel to Harper.
According to her, after her son described to her the unsafe condition of the vessel, she immediately placed a call to the WAEC office and demanded to know why her son was being sent on a leaky vessel to travel to Harper in the middle of the rainy season amidst such high risks.
The WAEC official, according to her, bluntly told her that “life itself is a risk” meaning in other words that the staff member had no choice but to adhere to the official WAEC arranged travel arrangements. However, her son, apparently fearing dismissal or sanctions, pleaded with her and asked her to trust God and pray that nothing untoward happens.
But the question which the WAEC authorities and the Ministry of Education have failed to answer is just why did the Ministry grant permission to WAEC to convey exam materials by sea when other means were readily available. It was not as if the Ministry as well as WAEC had no other choice or did not have prior experience conveying exam materials by road and or by air.
Both means, air and road transport, could have been readily sourced and used to convey exam materials and examiners to Harper. Some staff members on the ill-fated vessel were to have travelled to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh, along with examination materials to administer the WAEC exams.
But for unexplained reasons, WAEC authorities opted to dispatch the materials to Harper from where they would have been dispatched to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County. Apparently, WAEC and MoE authorities did not conduct due diligence checks on the vessel which had been officially barred from setting sail.
Informed sources have told the Daily Observer that money had changed hands to permit the vessel to set sail despite the ban placed by Maritime authorities whose findings revealed that the vessel was unseaworthy and declared it unfit to sail.
Informed sources also say money has changed hands since the tragic incident and it appears more likely than not that the official investigation promised by Maritime Commissioner Eugene Nagbe will eventually fizzle out just as other official investigations have all fizzled out.
A former diplomat and lawyer (name withheld), commenting on the matter, has said the only viable option left open to families and relatives of the deceased is to sue the MoE and the WAEC for compensatory damages.
He added that legal obstacles likely to be thrown into their way should be expected but was quick to add that, after exhausting locally available legal remedies, they can take their case to the ECOWAS Court for redress. He furthered that this will be a testing moment for local human rights organizations.
According to him this is because most local rights groups including civil society organizations in general, are not independent, adding, they have agendas driven by external funders that may likely prove reluctant to pursue such matters.
Notwithstanding, he says families and relatives of the deceased should remain unrelenting and pursue the legal option to its fullest conclusion, because therein lies hope that their concerns will be meaningfully addressed.
He further maintained that the WAEC is a regional organization and that means the ECOWAS Court will be the proper venue to address shortcomings by regional organizations but, according to him the matter has to first be tried or adjudicated in local courts up to the level of the Supreme Court, from where an appeal for intervention could be taken to the ECOWAS Court.
But he added that since the issue appears to have deep political undertones, it is perhaps best that President Weah, as leader of the nation, adds his voice to those voices calling for accountability and redress to families of the deceased for, MoE, WAEC Must Account!!